Legislative News Update 17 May 2010 

5/17/2010 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 



       
 

In this issue:

  • Leadership Working to Avert Physician Payment Cuts
  • House Panel Approves Military Pay Raise, No Change in TRICARE Fees
  • VA Healthcare Constitutes Minimum Essential Coverage Under Health Care Reform

★★★

LEADERSHIP WORKING TO AVERT PHYSICIAN PAYMENT CUTS


Representatives of The Military Coalition, a group of 34 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations of which AUSA is a member, met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other members of the House leadership last week to discuss issues important to AUSA and the Coalition.

Speaker Pelosi informed the group that leaders in the House and Senate have reached a tentative agreement to fix the 21 percent cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments to doctors now scheduled for June 1.  This will be the fourth time this year that doctors face a potential huge cut in the fees that the government pays them to treat Medicare and TRICARE patients.

A bill (H.R. 4213), expected to go to the House floor this week, includes language that would block the scheduled payment cuts and would freeze the rate at 2009 levels for the next five years.  The leadership hopes to have the legislation completed before Memorial Day.

Coalition members also stressed the need for an end to the concurrent receipt offset for Chapter 61 and longevity retirees and the need to end the SBP/DIC offset for survivors.

As he did in the last roundtable meeting, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., expressed frustration at the “serious challenge” facing his committee as they search for offsets to pay for improvements to concurrent receipt and survivor benefits.  He said he and other leaders are continuing to work on that and hope they “might have some light at the end of the tunnel.”


HOUSE PANEL APPROVES MILITARY PAY RAISE. NO CHANGE IN TRICARE FEES


As the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill works its way through Congress, details are beginning to emerge on what a final bill might look like. 

The House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee marked-up its portion of the defense authorization bill last week.  That panel exercises oversight and legislative jurisdiction over military personnel policy including manpower levels and pay, benefits for military troops, families and retirees as well as health care.

In her opening remarks at the mark-up, Chairwoman Susan Davis, D-Calif., said, “As the nation enters the ninth year of war, it is becoming painfully apparent that the extraordinary high operations tempo has exacted a high penalty on our service members and their families.  Although we have done much to improve existing programs and initiate new solutions, the demand to further enhance personnel and family support programs remains great.”

Despite pleas from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the panel voted for a 1.9 percent pay raise for the military, which is 0.5 percent higher than the President’s budget request.  Davis said that she is skeptical of Defense Department analyses that find military pay equals or exceeds private-sector salaries.  “I am unaware of any civilian occupation that includes the same arduous duties and sacrifice that is made by members of the military.”

The panel also authorized 7,000 additional personnel for the active Army to meet the demands of current combat operations should the Army decide that the additional forces are needed.  It also increased both hostile fire pay and family separation allowances that have not changed since 2004.

Davis made it perfectly clear that she was relieved her subcommittee did not have to deal with TRICARE fee increases and premiums this year.  She said that Secretary Gates has made clear his concern about the increasing costs of health care and that her subcommittee was “willing to collaborate with the Department of Defense and the organizations that represent our military personnel and their families to explore fair and equitable proposals to control significant cost growth.”

With regards to Secretary Gates recent remarks on pay raises and TRICARE fee increases, Davis told the Army Times that, “Now just isn’t the time to be doing that.  I don’t like using the word ‘never,’ so I’m not going to say we would never cap pay, never cut health care benefits or never raise fees, never reduce the number of people, but we are not prepared to do that now.”

Davis said she worries that a target had been placed on personnel programs as the source of the military’s budget problems at a time when cutting back would be the wrong thing to do.  Capping pay raises and cutting the size of the military, while freeing money for other things, would not help the military tackle the stress that plagues the force. 

Cutting long-term benefits, such as retired pay and retiree health benefits, could do immediate and long-term harm to the military’s efforts to find and keep quality people.  “Long-term benefits are important to have people stay in the force over time,” Davis said.

Other provisions in the draft bill include:

* A pilot program to help military spouses find jobs in the military community
* A one-time cash allowance for severely wounded warriors to help resettle caregivers providing aid and attendance
* Authority to continue TRICARE coverage for children up to age 26, in return for a premium to be set by the Pentagon
* A total of $65 million to assist civilian schools serving military children, including those impacted by Base Realignment and Closure actions
* TRICARE coverage for Guard/Reserve members who qualify for retired pay before age 60

This is only the first step in the process.  The full House Armed Services Committee takes up the bill this week.  After it is voted out of committee, it will go the House floor for a full vote.  Once the Senate completes its version of the bill, House and Senate leaders will meet to resolve any differences and hammer out a compromise.  The final bill will then go to the President for signature.


VA HEALTHCARE CONSTITUTES MINIMUM ESSENTIAL COVERAGE UNDER HEALTH CARE REFORM


Last week, the House unanimously passed H.R. 5014 that would allow the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make the determination that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care constitutes minimal essential coverage under the health care program established by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Specifically, the legislation clarifies that the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), Spina Bifida Health Care Program, and the Children of Women Vietnam Veterans Health Care Program meet the "minimum essential coverage" requirement under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Senate passed companion legislation, S. 3162, on March 26, 2010, by unanimous consent.